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Jewish World Review August 28, 2002 / 20 Elul, 5762

Bob Greene

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Major-league players,
owners should read this | The obituaries for Enos "Country" Slaughter all stressed what the Hall of Fame outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals did in the 1946 World Series: scrambled all the way from first base to home to win the Series for his team.

That may indeed have been the highlight of Slaughter's baseball career. But when he died at age 86 this month, I couldn't help but think of another kind of highlight -- especially against the backdrop of today's major-league players and major-league owners, who can't seem to figure out why fans are turning away from the game.

Around the time of the last baseball strike in the mid-'90s, I heard from a man named Bill Deen, a 66-year-old retired International Harvester worker. Deen grew up in the small town of Eldorado, in southern Illinois; there was no television, but boys in Eldorado fell in love with the St. Louis Cardinals through radio broadcasts.

After Slaughter's amazing dash to win the World Series in '46, young Bill Deen --Billy Deen then -- wrote this letter, and mailed it to Sportsman's Park in St. Louis:

Dear Enos,

I was very thrilled yesterday as you and the rest of the Cardinals overpowered the overrated Boston Red Sox. I am thoroughly convinced that it was your terrific speed and great throwing arm that was the winning margin.

I am looking forward to next year when I can see you in action again. I hope you have another great year. It was the best World Series I have ever listened to. I was for the Cardinals the whole way through and was confident you would win.

I'm only 18 years of age, but I've been following the Cardinals extensively since 1936. I've never written to a big leaguer yet and I hope that I can receive some kind of an answer.

Sincerely yours,
Billy Deen

Billy Deen didn't hear back. He wasn't upset -- he knew that big-league ballplayers were busy.

But six years later -- in 1952 -- a letter arrived. The return address was Sportsman's Park, St. Louis. Inside the envelope was this handwritten letter:

Dear Bill:

Recently, going through my 1946 scrapbook, I found this fan letter of yours that I must have failed to answer, and I feel very badly to think that I didn't answer such a nice letter as yours. I've tried never to miss answering all my fan mail.

The old saying "Better late than never" certainly holds true in this case! I'm six years late, but I wish to write and apologize for my neglect. I hope you will forgive me.

Your sincere friend,
Enos Slaughter

"Your sincere friend." And if the story isn't good enough, there's this:

After I wrote about the letter that was answered six years after it was written, Bill Deen mailed a copy of the column to Enos Slaughter in care of the town of Roxboro, N.C., where Slaughter was living. The two men then talked on the phone for about 20 minutes, and Slaughter invited his former fan to visit him.

So Bill Deen flew to Durham, N.C., checked into a Red Roof Inn, and Enos Slaughter, then 79, drove from Roxboro to pick him up. The two men went out to dinner and talked about baseball for the whole meal, and then Slaughter, who had tickets to a Duke University basketball game that night, invited Deen to come to the game with him, and introduced Deen to all his friends.

Deen told me: "For him to treat me so grandly and graciously . . . "

When I asked Slaughter why he did it, he said, "Why wouldn't I? He was a very nice fellow. A nice gentleman."

Anyway -- with today's baseball news being what it is, I wanted to tell that story. At the time, I asked Slaughter what he thought of the major-league ballplayers who had by then ended their strike.

"It's going to take a long time for the fans to forgive baseball," Slaughter said. "Deep in their hearts, the fans are still disgusted.

"I won't be going to baseball games as much as I used to, either. It's not just the fans who are disgusted with baseball. Listen, I'm in the Hall of Fame, and I'm disgusted, too."

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JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. His latest book is Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen. (Sales help fund JWR). Comment by clicking here.

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